I generally think I'm a pretty positive person and a "glass-half-full" kind of guy. I say this because I like to think I see the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt. And particularly food establishments that are trying to do new and innovative things. So you can appreciate my disappointment recently with The Oaks Hotel and their inability to cook a $100 steak correctly.
Let's take a step back. The first place I lived in Sydney was Neutral Bay, back in March of 2002. It was one of the first pubs I visited and was the place that helped me settle in to my new country. I've taken friends and family from around the world there. It was like a comfortable blanket. Good food, good friends, good drinks, footy on the big screen, and some pool (and limited "wankiness").
Recently, the owners decided it was time to take the place upmarket and relaunch things as a steak bistro. It's commendable, really. But they have removed the indoor BBQ (which sucks - and do they know I met Barnesy there?!), took down the indoor big screen, and removed the outdoor big screen. So if you're there for a meal with friends you're pretty much screwed if it's cold or rainy. And there's no place to watch the footy while having a meal. And they are seriously trying to eliminate the cook-your-own option. Those are big misses, in my book.
In any case, my mate has been raving for weeks about their new "Tomahawk" steak, which weighs in at about $100 and is intended to be shared by a few friends. A few weeks back he convinced me to have a go with him and his brother. I was pretty excited and had a bit of a food orgasm when it arrived.
You can imagine my disappointment when we cut into it and found it to be well done. That's a fucking crime! Forget the price, the poor cow that sacrificed itself would be rolling in its grave. "We're sorry, they are hard to cook evenly, particularly near the bone. Would you like some free gelato?" was the response we got. No, I want a nicely cooked steak or my $100 back, thank you!
Time heals all wounds, if you will, and last night my mate convinced me to have another go. "Mate, they were fantastic the first four times I had them." Ok, dude, let's see what they can do. He goes to the kitchen, explains our last experience and asks for them to get it nicely medium-rare. What do we get? Blue. Pretty much raw. Damn it. My mate returns it and says another is on its way.
Fast forward one hour and I'm starting to get a bit frustrated. I'm hungry! And then it arrives. Finally! Wait, no, seriously.... IT'S FUCKING WELL DONE! Yep, ladies and gents, this is a $100 steak that is cooked to death with a medium-rare flag in it.
At this point I've had enough. In all honesty, I can't remember the last time I have sent anything back to a kitchen, if I ever have at all. So I walk it to the kitchen - the Gourmet Male is in a good place. Frustrated, but calm. "Look, it's obvious this is too hard to cook correctly so can we just get our money back please?". Then it gets real - the manager has a go that we keep trying parts of the steaks and returning them. Um yeah, that's how most humans actually try food to only then find that their 10 year old niece can cook it better.
Then the chef decides he wants to enter the discussion and tell me I don't know how to cook steak and that it's hard to get the Tomahawk cooked properly throughout. It's on. "Um, maybe sous vide it and then grill it for a minute on each side? That way YOU can't screw it up... Or maybe just practice on the grill and find a time and technique that gives you consistent results." Sous vide seems to confuse him. So I kindly ask to see the steak I returned and show him the aforementioned crucified piece of meat. "Please, please tell me how that's medium-rare." I get a head shake. At this point all I want is a good meal and my money back. So they give up and return our money and I go back to our table, furious.
As I begin to spew my frustration all over my friends the manager returns. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to have a go at you." That's actually pretty brave. And cool. But seriously, if they get it wrong three times isn't it time to either take it off the menu or get a new chef? (or both) "No way, we wouldn't take it off the menu!". Ok, then. The result? The four tables next to us who were drooling when it arrived were kindly advised to avoid it at all costs. A shame.
So, the beer is still good. The footy is pretty much gone. And the new steakhouse relaunch is seriously suspect. Why couldn't they leave well enough alone? I'll just grab a pie next door next time. $6 and they know how to cook it properly.